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Courtesy of OVO Sound/Records

March 29, 2017

ALUR | The Better Features of Drake’s More Life

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I’m really not a Drake fan. To be completely honest, I’ve only listened to a handful of his songs, mainly the “bangers” over the years, and he’s never been my artist of choice. I understand the widespread appeal of his music — it’s catchy, there’s a nice blend of rap and R&B, doused in some Caribbean rhythms, not to mention the fact that Drake was on Degrassi all those years ago. Still, Drake’s standard melodic lines often bore me, as they are monotonous, and he’s not the most vocally gifted.

Listen to Drake’s More Life on Spotify:

Despite my qualms, I listened to More Life last week. I wanted to hear something new and I decided that out of all my options — mainly a subpar Discover Weekly and a handful of overused playlists — Drake’s collection of tracks seemed the most promising. I was more curious than anything, interested to hear whether he had tried something new.

As I played the playlist’s first track, “Free Smoke,” I found myself incredibly confused. I knew the voice of the singer in the opening, though I could tell that her voice had been tuned up and alternatively produced. The style and even the lyrics seemed uncannily familiar, and after some scoping on the Internet, I realized it was none other than Hiatus Kaiyote.

Hiatus Kiayote is an eclectic, neo-jazz-funk-soul-rock collective, and it’s incredibly difficult to describe their style and do it justice. In a nutshell, they’re a slightly avant-garde group that hasn’t hit the mainstream arena yet. Their singer, Naomi “Nai Palm” Saalfield, is unreal. She has an incredible range and brings saccharinity and lyrical complexity to their music. Nai Palm’s voice on Drake’s album came out of nowhere for me, but his choice to include it in his opener drew me to the album. I thought: if he featured Palm on the very first song, maybe there would be other hidden gems throughout. The reality was that I was more interested in Drake’s samples and featured artists than him.

This is not the first time that Hiatus Kaiyote has been featured on a hip-hop artist’s album. Anderson .Paak captured the opening from “Molasses,” another track off of Choose Your Weapon, in his song “Without You.” Unlike Drake’s sample, Kaiyote’s track is integral to .Paak’s composition. The keyboard riff, layered with Nai’s vocal humming, plays throughout .Paak’s entire track. He additionally blends his own vocals and layers a new melody on Nai’s. In this case, his song and Kaiyote’s emerge as different entities, yet I’m able to appreciate both for their creative value. I didn’t feel the same about Drake’s track.

The featured song, “Building A Ladder,” is the concluding track on Hiatus Kaiyote’s 2015 album, Choose Your Weapon. It’s a jazzy, vocal-heavy track that displays Nai Palm’s versatility. Drake samples a portion of the opening, with just Palm’s voice accompanied by an intricate piano. The original song picks up in the second half and gains the infamous, polyrhythmic groove and instrumentation that make it stand out. While I hoped that Drake would feature more of the original song, “Free Smoke” quickly transformed into a heavy, repetitive, musically lacking track.

As I continued listening to More Life, I hoped to hear more interesting samples or featured artists. A few tracks later, I found another voice I recognized — the wonderfully emotional Sampha. In the playlist’s eighth track “4422,” Sampha sings alongside some slower rhythms, his voice proving to be the most striking aspect of the song. Drake doesn’t make an appearance; the short track is minimally composed around Sampha’s soothing voice. Sampha is not a new featured artist for Drake, as he also collaborated on “Too Much” off of Nothing Was the Same. Incidentally, “Too Much” is still my favorite Drake song — it showcases Drake’s talent as a rapper and has a gripping hook by Sampha, which adds to the song’s lyrical narrative. While “4422” does captivate via Sampha’s tone, it proves to be yet another song on Drake’s album that falls a bit flat.

I suppose what makes an artist interesting is more than their singular talent — it’s also about how they reference others. Drake’s choices to feature a variety of artists, ranging from Hiatus Kaiyote and Sampha to Kanye West, makes him an intriguing figure for someone like me, who isn’t a huge fan of his music. Still, at the end of the day, I’d much rather listen to Hiatus Kaiyote or Sampha individually, rather than indulge in heavily produced versions of their music.

Anita Alur is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at aa567@cornell.edu. Millennial Musings appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

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